Collective agreements and political donations for all

Collective agreements and political donations for all: ways to rebalance power

Media Release: Tuesday 12th September

The Equality Network is calling for the Government to put curbs on political donations to stop money distorting politics, and to enable industry collective bargaining, making fairer working conditions for everyone.

The Network, whose members include NGOs, and organisations focused on health and workers rights, insists that changes to our legislation are needed to enable collective bargaining so that individuals struggling on low incomes can advocate for better working conditions, and better salaries.

Collective bargaining was used successfully to allow women to gain equal recognition of their value of their work, and for better working conditions for care workers in the aged care sector, in the case led by Kristine Bartlett, resulting in a Government settlement of $2 billion dollars.

Bartlett’s struggle to fight for better working conditions is typical of many ordinary people in this country who are treated unfairly, but do not feel they have any power to change things. With the support of her union E tū, and together with thousands of other care workers who are part of the union, they were able to take action and negotiate with Government.

“My union E tū … has backed me up and supported me through the Equal Pay case, which was worth $2 billion dollars. And this is going to be a life changer for so many woman and carers. Without our union and without the support I’ve had from them, this case would never have happened,” says Bartlett.

Bartlett is calling for people to vote for strong unions at the election booths this year in order to make our country more equal and just. “More than ever we need to vote for parties that support  strong unions in our country, so keep that in mind this September,” she says.

Members of the Equality Network, such as the NGO Public Good, are also asking for changes to the way political parties are funded. Donations to political parties can allow for imbalances of power as wealthy people are able, through large donations, to potentially buy unfair influence in our political system creating political distortion.

Public Good’s Jan Rivers says that, as a former public servant, she was placed under much more scrutiny than our politicians are. “I signed up to a code of conduct that meant that I declared conflicts of interest, and even perceived conflicts of interest, to my employer every year. That’s not a standard that wealthy business owners and our politicians are being held to.”

Rivers supports electoral funding vouchers as a way to rebalance power within our communities, so that everyone gets their fair chance to be heard, and political influence remains independent of wealth. These $20 vouchers would be given to citizens, who could then donate it to the party of their choice each election cycle. “One of the benefits of that would be that parties would be highly incentivised to provide policies that are more attractive to ordinary people. That sounds a lot more like fairness to me.”

She also suggests limiting political donations to a maximum of $1,500 per year by individual and businesses, as they do in Canada where the cap is C$1550. Currently there are no limits as to how much you can donate to a political party, and only donations of over $15,000 require you to put your name on a donation.

The suggestions build on ideas in a recent paper by Max Rashbrooke, a senior associate at Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, which set out ways to democratise political party funding and create a more politically equal society.

“Because running political parties and election campaigns is expensive, parties are reliant on private donors. That raises the prospect that, to keep those donors happy, parties will shape policies towards their interests, meaning that those who can afford to donate to parties will have more influence over politics than others – a fundamental contradiction of the ideals of democracy.”

Members of the Network, a non-partisan organisation of 37 members united by the vision of the a vision of a more equal Aotearoa New Zealand, encourage all voters to #VoteforEquality this September at the ballot boxes.

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